The hot stove season is definitely going strong. Dexter Fowler, a man who seems to be so high on everyone’s sleeper list every year that he can’t really be considered a sleeper, will going from the Colorado Rockies to the Houston Astros in a move confirmed by the Astros official Twitter feed.
— Houston Astros (@astros) December 3, 2013
What does this trade do for Fowler’s fantasy value? Because I want us all to finish happy, we’re going to start with the negatives and work our way to the positives.
I’ll tell you what. Leaving Coors Field is really going to help that guy’s offensive production. — Said by nobody at any time in the history of history.
If Fowler was a bit more of a power guy, this wouldn’t be as much of an issue at all. It’s 315 feet down the left field line and 326 down the right field line at Minute Maid Park, and that makes for a very live, homer-friendly yard. It’s been that way since opening in 2000 and I wouldn’t bet on that changing any time soon.
Even the regular gaps aren’t that big, although the closer you get to a monstrous center field, the bigger the gaps are. Where I get a little less excited is when I realize that Fowler’s going to lose the huge gaps that Coors Field offers. I’ve talked about this before and you probably know this anyway, but it’s worth mentioning here.
Coors Field is not a great park for hitters because of small dimensions — quite the opposite. It’s a great park for hitters because despite the bigger dimensions, the ball carries very well at altitude. Also, because the gaps are so spacious, outfielders have a choice to make: they either play back to try to cut off the gaps and allow cheap singles to fall in front of them all game long, or try to prevent those singles, significantly limit their range, and allow extra-base hits all game long.
At Minute Maid Park, outfielders don’t have the monster gaps to worry about, so they can play in. As such, a lot of the bloop hits that would fall in Coors Field fall into the gloves. In case you’re thinking that I’m just rambling and I don’t know what I’m talking about, Fowler’s career splits back me up.
|Career at Coors Field||1129||336||.298|
|Career away from Coors Field||1119||270||.241|
|Career at Minute Maid Park||37||7||.189|
I know, 37 at-bats isn’t a big sample size. It’s also worth mentioning that he’s got a .388 OBP in Houston. Still, when he’s had to swing the bat, Fowler hasn’t had a ton of luck in his new home park.
Leaving Coors Field is the only thing I don’t like about this trade for Fowler. Now, that’s not a small factor, but there are a few positives to take from this.
– 1. It’s the American League: I don’t exactly know why this is, but players on the Rockies seem to be extremely injury prone, and Fowler was no exception. He’s never played more than 150 games in a single season and only topped 140 once (2012). In between the 143-game season in 2012 was a 125-game season in 2011 and a 119-game season in 2013, which isn’t what you want to see for a guy who won’t turn 28 until just before next season.
Playing in the American League won’t eliminate the threat of an injury, but having the designated hitter will go a long way in limiting it. Nagging injuries don’t have to mean either playing a very physically demanding center field position, or missing some significant time in the lineup.
– 2. The Lineup: Believe it or not, it is a good thing for Fowler’s stats that he’s going to a weaker lineup. Allow me to explain.
Let’s start here: MLB Depth Charts has Fowler slotted to hit third for the Astros, behind Robbie Grossman and Jose Altuve, with Jonathan Villar batting in the nine spot. I’ll grant you that that doesn’t look like a daunting group of hitters to be batting behind, but he’ll still have more RBI chances there than he would have batting lead-off in Colorado, a National League lineup.
Now that he’s in a little bit more of a run producing spot in the order, his career high RBI total should skyrocket from where it currently stands — 53. But it doesn’t stop there.
The weaker lineup should also help Fowler steal a few more bases. Despite the fact that he’s a speed guy, Fowler has only topped 20 steals once in his career, and that was in 2009. Since then, he’s nabbed 13 bases in 2010, 12 in 2011 and 2012, and 19 in 2013. Fowler’s got a solid career OBP of .365, but he’s also been batting in front of good hitters.
Running with someone like Carlos Gonzalez or Troy Tulowitzki at the plate is a risk because if you’re thrown out, you’re obviously limiting your team’s chance to score. Even if you’re safe, you may be taking the bat out of a good hitter’s hands. That doesn’t seem like a huge concern when you’re on base with guys like Jason Castro and Chris Carter at the dish.
Similarly, with a weaker lineup, it stands to reason that he’ll be a bit more aggressive at the plate, swinging for the fences.
Final (Early) Verdict
It’s true that he won’t get as many cheap singles in Houston as he did in Colorado. It’s also true that batting third in a weak order won’t bring as many runs scored as batting first in a strong one would. But, this move at least makes Fowler a dark horse 20-20 candidate for 2014, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him around 75 RBI. That’s potential that just did not exist in Colorado. As a result, I can say that this move actually gives him a higher ceiling.